Sparks from metal work being done behind a home in the 800-block of Shuswap Road has been confirmed as the cause of the grass fire that burned nearly 550 hectares of land east of Sun Rivers on July 12.
Workers from a construction company hired to complete home renovations were cutting angle iron when sparks ignited the grass about 25 feet away, Kamloops Fire Rescue Chief Fire Prevention Officer Dean Olstad told KTW.
“They were trying to put it out themselves, but then it just became apparent pretty quickly that it was going to be too much for them. Then they called 911 and that’s when we arrived on scene,” Olstad said, noting firefighters did their best to extinguish the blaze, but it escalated from there.
Olstad said KFR is not disclosing the name of the company responsible for the fire. No fines are being pursued.
“We’ve contacted them, gone over procedures, precautions for that type of work in the future just so they can be better [prepared] to prevent it from happening again,” Olstad said.
As per the B.C. fire code, there are a number of precautionary steps that need to be taken when conducting any type of cutting, grinding and welding work, Olstad said.
Ideally, a 15-foot area from where this type of hot works is being conducted should be cleared of any fire hazards. If that can’t be done, the area should be watered down or a fire-resistant blanket or shielding should be used to cover combustibles. Someone must also watch over the job and ensure those fire-prevention measures are working, he said.
“Within four hours, someone should go back to the area and then reassess the area just to ensure there are no hot spots,” Olstad said.
The company didn’t follow all of those steps.
“They missed a few, for sure,” Olstad said. “This isn’t their line of work. They typically sub this type of work out, but it wasn’t a big job, it wasn’t a large component of it, so they thought they could do it themselves.”
Olstad said the company didn’t have anyone watching for a fire start.
“I’m not sure what length of time had gone by, but it was substantial enough that when they did notice it, they tried to [extinguish] it themselves by stepping on it and using shovels and stuff, but it was at such a state that they couldn’t extinguish the fire,” Olstad said.
He noted workers had some protective shields up, but they were not sufficient to stop the sparks from getting into the nearby grasses. It was determined there was no gross negligence on the part of the company, which did take some steps at fire prevention.
Olstad said the fire department enforces the fire code and, while each case is different, generally prefers to achieve compliance through education, though fines are a possibility.
City of Kamloops bylaws are a quicker and easier option for levying fines, he added. Fines in the fire-prevention bylaw range from $250 to $1,000.
The Shuswap Road fire, aided by the wind and dry conditions, spread quickly up the hillside. Residents of Sun Rivers spent many anxious moments watching the flames and smoke get closer before firefighting efforts from the sky and on the ground kept the blaze at bay.
The BC Wildfire Service had the fire under control in about a day and listed it as inactive after about a week of extinguishing hotspots.
No structures were damaged nor any injuries reported.
Fire information officer Nicole Bonnett said the wildfire service has its own fire investigation into the cause of the Shuswap Road blaze, a probe that is ongoing.
“The data collection has been completed, but the report still has to be written and the investigation team has been on a few other fires in the interim, so it’ll take some time for them to get that report written up,” she said.
Whether those responsible for causing the fire will face a fine from the wildfire service depends on the outcome of that investigation, Bonnett said.